It was a poignant moment: the old lady and the new lady, face to face. With three long blasts of the horn, Liberty of the Seas saluted the Statue of Liberty and announced its arrival in America. Like the statue, Liberty of the Seas and its older sister, Freedom of the Seas, have come to symbolize a break from the past — and the embrace of a new and bigger world of opportunities and innovation.
Last year, I could sense the tension among crew and management as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line launched Freedom of the Seas into service, wondering if the cruising public would embrace its massive size and unique offerings. Capable of carrying more than 4,000 passengers, the ship really is a behemoth. Fortunately, the public loved the new ship and that deer-in-the-headlights expression was soon replaced with an air of confidence.
"It's always amazing when you work on a project like this and watch it become a reality," says Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises International. Of course, with the second ship, you have the benefit of learning from the first one, and it is clear that Royal Caribbean has learned a lot in its freshman year running the world's largest cruise ship. While the layout and much of the design is the same as on Freedom of the Seas, Liberty rolls out some new programming, puts a new emphasis on artwork, and offers better food in the main dining venues.
Many of the new onboard programs are directed to guests looking for more choices for a health-conscious vacation; other new programs are directed to families and newlyweds. The health programming includes the Vitality wellness program, which promotes a healthier lifestyle with new fitness and spa offerings, new shore excursions and new culinary choices. The new Explorer Weddings program lets couples tie the knot in "extreme" style while climbing a rock wall, surfing on the FlowRider, standing on a glacier or romancing in a castle.
New family programming includes the new Adventure Theater, "Scratch DJ 101" classes, Chefs on Deck, and the Crown & Anchor Society Youth Program, in which kids get what adults get: frequent-cruiser credits. Royal Caribbean has also fine-tuned its stateroom accommodations for families, and there are more group programs and shore excursions geared toward multigenerational family travel. And, in an industry first, the cruise line has created a teen advisory board to help develop programs to enhance the young-adult vacation experience.
The new artwork is an especially nice change. Liberty of the Seas has an art theme with modern bronze-and-glass sculptures, traditional and art-deco paintings, and a montage of photographs that's called "Illusion or Reality?" It's up to the passengers to decide based on their own tastes. Whatever the name, it certainly works; it's quirky, fun and beautiful all at the same time.
"There are so many different things to do with such variety," Fain says of the activities aboard the Liberty.
That's an understatement. In fact, the ship has more facilities than a small town. There's an ice rink, a nine-hole miniature golf course, a 43-foot-high rock-climbing wall and a full-size boxing ring. There are three pools, a full-size water park, the wave-generating FlowRider for surfing, and two cantilevered whirlpools that are suspended 112 feet above the ocean. Passengers can also visit the Royal Promenade, a 445-foot boulevard for shopping, dining and entertainment that looks like an atrium mall and hosts nightly street parades with performers, music and a laser light show. And for fitness buffs, Liberty's very large fitness-and-spa center offers many options for rejuvenation and refreshment.
Those who like to take their entertainment sitting down can visit the enormous casino or listen to the live bands that can be found in various venues around the ship. There is also a theater with excellent professional entertainment. I was greatly entertained by Liberty's "Somewhere in Time" revue — one of the best shows I've experienced on any ship. Not to be missed is the ship's nightly ice show with professional figure skaters from Russia, Canada and the United States, who manage to do amazing jumps and choreography on an ice rink the size of a postage stamp.
As befits a ship this size, there are many dining options. There is a Johnny Rockets hamburger joint near the pool deck, and the Royal Promenade hosts a Seattle's Best Coffee house, a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop, the Hoof and Claw pub, and Sorrento's pizzeria. What's really improved since my Freedom cruise is the food in the main dining venues, which now offer more choices and better-prepared entrees. The ship offers the usual two nightly seatings, with assigned tables and tablemates, in its three-deck-high main restaurant; each level is named for a famous artist (Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt). For those wishing to dine on buffet fare, there is Windjammer Café, the ship's buffet venue. It is arranged like a food court, which really helps to keep the passenger traffic flowing. There are three additional dining venues within Windjammer Café: Jade, serving Asian-fusion cuisine; Chops Grille, serving steaks and seafood; and Portofino, serving Italian fare (Chops and Portofino require reservations and have a $20 cover charge.)
A peek at ‘Project Genesis’
Not so long ago, no one believed a ship as big as Liberty would float with the public. Too big, folks would say, too impersonal. How times have changed. "Now we know better because people realize all the things they can do on board," Fain says. "We've created a big appeal and we can sell this product for a premium."
As if Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, and next year's Independence of the Seas aren't big enough, the cruise line has set its sights on something really big. Royal Caribbean has ordered two 220,000-gross-ton ships, each capable of carrying 5,400 passengers — and each costing about $1.4 billion. The first of these "Project Genesis" ships is slated for delivery in the fall of 2009, the second in August 2010.
When asked about the new innovations aboard the Genesis ships, Fain kept mum. One thing is for certain: At 220,000 tons, Genesis ships should have some really big entertainment innovations. Stay tuned.
If you go
Liberty departs from Miami each Saturday on seven-night cruises that alternate between Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.
Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? and you might find yourself in her next column.